London Cycle Superhighways

Two of the London Cycle Superhighways opened at the beginning of the week to a guarded response. Obviously a scheme like this (which cost £23million in total) is going to invoke a broad spectrum of emotions.

For the purposes of this blog post, any reference to these new routes will focus on CS7 which runs from Merton to the City. This is because when I lived in London for a while I used to cycle from Morden to Camden Town every day which would have taken in much of this new cycle route. I had no trouble on this route with motorists, partly because most of the time I was passing stationary traffic. It is, as you can imagine, a very busy route and therefore will feel intimidating to the novice cyclist.

Route_7_Superhighway_21.05.10

It is all too easy for the experienced cyclist [in the UK] to feel sceptical about the scheme and even easier to pick apart TfL’s Utopian vision of a carpet of blue filled with relaxed, happy cyclists. We know all too well the diabolical levels of infrastructure that exist already (and for which Local Authorities must hang their heads in shame). However, I would like to tentatively offer the following observations;

Some have criticised the fact that CS7 uses the A24, a main thoroughfare into Central London. I would imagine TfL did this for the following reasons:

  • If one of the aims was to create a modal shift from car to bicycle, putting this revised cycle lane on a major thoroughfare with cyclists perceived to be making better progress would assist in this shift.
  • If the ‘Superhighway’ was projected on a route taking in quieter residential roads, for example to the east of the A24, then all those people living to the west would have to make their way across the A24 to get to it. It is better for residential streets to feed into a cycle route. Also, if it is on a major road, it will pass more shops, schools, transport interchanges etc.

I’m pretty sure the cycle paths are blue to match those used in Copenhagen  (obviously the colour. Not the design and engineering standard). It’s pleasing that TfL have used their branding to keep it recognisable and simple for novice cyclists and although it’s flattering that Barclays saw the colour and thought that big banking could be associated with the humble, egalitarian bicycle, I sincerely hope this is not the beginning of some form of PFI initiative.

Although Transport for London (TfL) would have consulted extensively with the Boroughs, they must have consulted with cyclists at some point regarding the design and layout. I would like to know at what design stage this consultation with the end users took place. From experience, cycling groups generally see the plans when the construction work has already been programmed giving little or no scope for change. Although I’m sure TfL consulted form the start, it would be interesting to read what feedback they received purely for other councils and cycling groups to take note. (If you want to read about a consultation excerise that went well to cheer you up, please read here)

If it gets more people experiencing the pleasure and freedom that cycling brings than that’s wonderful as if they really are just tarted up ‘Crap Cycle Lanes’ then they should get loads more feedback on how to make them work. This would be fantastic as normally it is experienced cyclists that get consulted and even then only rarely. There needs to be a broader range of people giving feedback from all levels of cycling experience, all ages and ethnic origins.

Although there have been attempts at a London Cycle Network before with differing levels of success, I’d like to think of this latest venture as Cycling Infrastructure Version 1.0. Maybe there will be an upgraded version in the future that not only gives a fresh coat of blue paint but also a raised curb separating cyclists from traffic and pedestrians. Maybe the future version will tackle the issue of cars and vans parking in them (often lawfully, it must be said). Crucially, maybe a future version will give greater clarity at junctions with, dare I say it, PRIORITY (although that will probably come with Cycling Infrastructure Version 90.0).

In conclusion, I tentatively applaud Transport for London for at least giving it a shot and trying to be progressive. As long as they actively encourage and are transparent with feedback, learn how to listen and look to examples set in Copenhagen and Amsterdam we may see that cycling utopia yet. London and indeed the rest of the UK, has everything to gain from making this work and making it an exemplar.

For views from the front line, I recommend Real Cycling, London Cyclist, Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest or Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph.

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Consultation

Concept Drawing by Craft:Pegg

The barriers have gone up along a section of Worthing seafront. Splash Point is being redeveloped to a design by Craft:Pegg Landscape Architects. It could have been a bone of contention for cyclists and pedestrians as it links the point where the Brighton – Worthing stretch of National Cycle Route 2 meets the promenade where the Borough Council recently voted to reinstate cycling.

However, the scheme that’s going ahead has a greater chance of succeeding than most for a simple reason.

The Landscape Architects directly consulted cyclists!

If that doesn’t make you reach for a paper bag to ease the hyperventilating then read on…

They listened and adjusted their design accordingly!

Craft:Pegg gave a presentation at a Worthing Cycle Forum (which is open to the cycling public) which was impressive enough and then they listened, in particular to the fact that a marked narrow cycle path would be undesirable as it would encourage people to cycle more quickly thereby increasing the scope for conflict.

I think one of the representatives said she was from Denmark, she cycled extensively around London where she now lives and works and wanted to make this scheme work for cyclists. I think it was that level of excitement that triggered my nosebleed.

This was of course just part of a range of consultation exercises being carried out but it just goes to show what happens when a bit of effort is made. In this instance, the end users feel as though they are part of the process, we learn what the designers aims and ambitions are and the designers pick up advice for free to guide their design. In this case [and in my humble opinion] it was already a great design that we merely helped make more robust.

Which begs the question as to why County Councils seem incapable in actively engaging cyclists in the same way, leading to this, or this, or this or all these. They do try in all fairness but there has to be a more clearly defined consultation route so cycling facilities can have proper input from cyclists as well as others that may come into contact with a piece of infrastructure such as pedestrian and disability groups.

 A lot of architects I know are cyclists, and it shows. Highways Departments aren’t cyclists, and it shows, often dangerously.

Crap Cycle Lane III

Yes, Crap Facilities Fans, welcome to the next instalment which is a real saucy seaside shocker!

 You may have noticed a common theme running through the crapness you have seen so far here and here. Pavements are being converted bringing all the non-motorised forms of transport into direct conflict.  Yet nothing is done to the roads. We never see the road space being ceded to pedestrians, cyclists, mobility scooters or wheelchair users. We never see road markings and street furniture being removed forcing motorists to slow down and actually think about what they are doing. It’s as though we want anti-social forms of motoring and higher casualty rates in our villages, towns and cities.

 The following junction is a prime example, and it’s a shocker as it’s on a major part of Sustrans’ National Cycle Network. It is on the NCN 2 running between Brighton and Worthing.

Here is the approach from Brighton. The road is the A259. Bear in mind that although the road on either side of the junction is single carriageway, here it opens up to three lanes (two to progress to Worthing and a right turn lane). This gives motorists ample opportunity to try and overtake at speed or just put their foot down because the road opens out.

Note that the pavement (sorry, ‘Shared Use Facility’) doesn’t open out. In fact, it gets very narrow at this point with foliage and beach huts to the left.

Here is the cluttered approach. There is an on road advisory lane that feeds in from the right – this is I assume for those that preferred to stay on the road to this point. Although the Shared path is wider further back, it is still not for the faster commuter or road cyclist as there are entrances to properties along it. Please note that absolutely no attempt has been made to realign the street furniture resulting in a slow, narrow and dangerous slalom. Pedestrians are also feeding into this from the pelican crossing.

To reiterate, this is National Cycle Network Route 2.

And this is it from Worthing.

Now you’ve had time to reflect you can cycle on to Worthing. The path here climbs slightly to give a glorious view of the sea (and the road below) but it is a narrow segregated path which is slightly too narrow for two cyclists to pass.

My humble suggestion is as follows; Narrow the approach to two lanes, remove the central pedestrian island if possible and extend the shared use path out, with additional planting. After all, the traffic was single file leading up to the junction from all directions. It would make this gateway to Worthing more pleasant for local residents, pedestrians, cyclists and slower, safer motorists.

In fairness, I have no doubt that Sustrans did the best they could with the resource open to them. I also have no doubt that they would have been told blankly by the Highways Department (the Fascist wing of any County Council) that there would be NO WAY that space could be taken from motorists and that it would cost too much anyway.

This same department also designed the cycle facilities I’ve highlighted in earlier posts. Please can someone stop them? I don’t care how or by whom. They are operating without any formal consultation route with cyclists which is badly needed as they clearly aren’t cyclists. The end result is like having a motorway network designed by the Chuckle Brothers.

Copenhagen and Amsterdam are just across the sea, yet they seem on a different planet.

Crap Cycle Lane II

Goodness! What’s this? A cycle path to the centre of Worthing AND the Seaside AND all for another eye-watering sum of money! I bet it’s wide and continuous and paved with gold!

I’m focusing on this roundabout because I think it best illustrates where UK cycling infrastructure differs from best practice examples in the Netherlands and Denmark. This facility was completed early 2010 to show off just how advanced our designers have become in trying to kill cyclists and pedestrians.

This shows the first sign in context. The plucky cyclist having just come to the end of a side road now has to cross the entrance to the junction (I assume by dismounting on to the pavement and crossing the road). Traffic can swing in quite quickly to get to a nearby Industrial Estate.

So far so good! The cyclist now has this bit of pavement to negotiate (providing no-one steps out from the house behind that hedge or anyone opens their car door). West Sussex Council Engineers must have spent whole minutes on this.

Here the cyclist has the option of trying to cross this fast roundabout exit to get to the town or straight on to further delights!

What’s that you ask? Priority for cyclists? Don’t be silly dear reader, this is the good old UK!! According to the new Transport Secretary, ‘The War on the Motorist is over’ because they’ve had it really tough for the last few decades. That converted pavement (Sorry. ‘Shared Use Facility’) takes you to the Town Centre and Seafront but more about that in a moment. Lets go round the corner to the next roundabout exit.

The cyclist wishing to continue west has to cross this fast moving entrance. Please note that this roundabout is in a residential area with a 30mph speed limit yet has a dual carriageway section running into it to allow the school run mum or our baseball capped friends in converted Vauxhall Novas the chance of a good run up.

The other side at the exit point. Also, please note the word ‘End’ put at various points to denote End of Route. Because novice cyclists are going to stop cycling on the pavement now aren’t they? It took the Council Engineers about 5 seconds to type ‘End’ on their drawings yet I think they missed a bit of trick. I think they could have written something better like LOOK OUT!!!!!’ or ‘PISS OFF! IT”S A PAVEMENT NOW, CAN”T YOU TELL??’ or just a stylish ‘FIN’.

Moving swiftly on to the next exit (because cycling is quick and easy and fun don’t you know), the cyclist (now filled with adrenalin) crosses this fast exit, around the weird chicane to the next exit which is conveniently right next to a petrol station exit.

Yes! Not only does this exciting roundabout entrance split to two lanes (to get the speed up that motorists desperately need in a built up area) but this car is pulling out from a petrol station. Ironically, they also sell alcohol which you may need if you made it this far.

If you’re coming across from the petrol station you connect with the Shared Use Facility I pictured earlier streaking off in to the distance toward the Town Centre and Seafront. Having cleared the roundabout (congratulations!) you can now head to the sea! You can start to hear the seagulls. And start wishing you also had wings.

There now follows a piece of engineering brilliance that  Brunel would have, well, laughed at. The hedge obscures a pavement stretching back to a small cul de sac (I nearly got clobbered by a fellow cyclist while taking pictures there).

And here we are at the glittering end of a sparkling cycling facility! The cyclist has to cross the pavement on to the end of the cul-de-sac and then onto the road toward to aforementioned Town Centre and Seafront.

There are further delights further along the route but I didn’t want to exhaust you.

The roundabout is still it’s original size allowing cars to continue flinging themselves round at speed. Now that they think cyclists are out of the way they can go even faster which is exactly what you need with two junior schools (both with ignored 20mph zones) and a Family Centre for pre-natal check ups and baby classes just off one of the exits.

I’m sure that in the Netherlands the profile of the roundabout would have been narrowed with a separate segregated path built away from pedestrians and giving cyclists priority over motorists. But this isn’t the Netherlands.

For all intents and purposes, we might as well be on Mars.

Crap Cycle Lane I

On Saturday I needed to run an errand so I unfolded my Brompton and decided to check out the new Findon to Worthing Cycle Route installed by West Sussex County Council. It runs along a single carriageway stretch of the A24 (which has a 40 mph limit being a suburb of Worthing). This ‘Shared Use Facility’ cost the local Council Tax payer an eye-watering £221,000 so surely for that kind of money it must be brilliant!

Alas, this is Britain dear Reader. I don’t know how they did it but yet again they made cycling look ponderous, dangerous to cyclist and pedestrian alike and a bit of a waste of time if you actually want to get anywhere.

Slow, apparently

Here is a stretch at the Southern end (facing back toward Worthing). Please note the slalom round the tree, the need to write ‘Slow’ at repeated intervals along the pavement (sorry, ‘Shared Use Facility’). Also, please note all the driveway entrances with loss of priority at these plus all the junctions. Meanwhile, the cars flash past regardless on a nice wide road which is what you need in an urban setting.

Russian Roulette. On a bike!

Here’s an interesting conundrum! Not only do cyclists have to give way but the exit to this petrol station is obscured by the hedge so you won’t know if a car is pulling out until they are on you (pardon the pun). You also have to give way for the entrance too (can’t be inconveniencing motorists now can we!) and then give way at the junction a bit further up, and again at the junction a bit further up………….

At least the trees are nice

This is a personal favourite. The Bus Shelter Slalom. Just pray that a pedestrian doesn’t step out to see why their bus is late! Did I mention that lovely wide road that’s perfect for cycling?

Of course, if you try cycling on the road now, you might get abuse for not using this dangerous dross that would make Evil Knievel think twice.

The path, despite being billed as the Findon – Worthing Cycle Route, actually fizzles out about a mile before Findon but the Council seems to think that just putting up an ‘End of Route’ sign will stop novice cyclists continuing on the pavement anyway.

This is one of my [many] pet hates regarding this type of facility – it encourages cyclists to use any pavement regardless of whether the Council has painted a bicycle symbol on it or not. Everyone else frowns, shakes their head and then complains to the local paper but you can’t blame novice cyclists for doing this – after all, if the Council have said it’s OK to cycle on a particular pavement (sorry, ‘Shared Use Facility’) then what’s wrong with cycling on all the others?

Motorists are happy because it gets bicycles off the roads allowing them to speed up which seems to be what people want in their built up areas.

Who would have thought that designing for something so simple could be so difficult? And this isn’t even the worst ‘Shared Use Facility’ in Worthing, but more on that another day.

The Road Less Travelled

I’ve generally found in life that there is a time and place for everything.  When my six week old son does a loud burp immediately after a meal everyone coos and applauds. You don’t get the same response aged 37, I have learned.

It would be nice if our local authorities realised this when it comes to installing their often hilarious takes on ‘Cycling Infrastructure’. To look at some of their efforts, the casual bystander would be forgiven for assuming that they were created for a circus chimp on a BMX by designers who clearly spent more time as a child on an Etch a Sketch than a bicycle.

For a decent cycle path to work, it has to be direct, continuous, with a good level of surface and good sight lines. It should clearly demonstrate that cycling is the quickest, safest most direct way to get about. What we often end up with are ‘Shared Use Facilities’ where a pavement is upgraded with a fresh coating of tarmac and shiny bicycle symbols painted on (quite often there’s no resurfacing).

These usually take a more circuitous route, are slower, usually running right past the entrances to peoples homes and driveways raising the chance of a collision with pedestrians. They offer no priority at junctions meaning the cyclist has to stop frequently losing their momentum. I take the view that if a cycle path needs a ‘Cyclist Dismount’ sign, than it has failed as a cycle path (unless of course it is for something like a canal lock). It is like asking a motorist to get out and push.

It also means that, with fewer bicycles on the road, the traffic speeds up which is particularly undesirable in residential areas, school zones and near medical facilities. The quicker cyclist, not choosing the path because it would be more dangerous, may also find themselves getting abuse from motorists who think they should be on the path even though the cyclist has more right to be on the road.

You may wonder why local cycling campaigners don’t say anything. This is generally because (from experience) by the time they get a whiff of ‘consultation’, the works have already been designed, signed off and programmed. But at least the local authority can now say they have ‘spoken to cyclists’.

The safest place to be, believe it or not, is on the road moving with the flow of traffic. This is partly because you are traffic but also because of the big secrets that some in the media and Motoring Lobby don’t want you to know. Do you want to hear one?!

Ready?

Cycling isn’t dangerous!

Incredible eh?! They may and try and portray it as dangerous by encouraging us to wear helmets and fear-mongering but they’re only distracting us from the fact that they are the danger on our streets that needs to be addressed (as brilliantly illustrated by this must-read article from Copenhagenize.com).

Do you want to hear another fact that they don’t want you to know?

Cyclists have more right to be on the road because driving is merely a privilege that can be removed and motorists haven’t paid for the roads since 1937!!!!!

Mind blowing!

There are cycle paths out there that do work very well, but usually it’s because they simply can’t fail such as the conversion of abandoned railway lines or wide coastal promenades like Worthing. The glorious Downs Link for example allows me to cycle from the South Coast to Surrey where I was brought up with next to no traffic interchange whatsoever.

You would have thought it child’s play to design a facility for something bewilderingly simple as a bicycle. Unfortunately, the end result usually looks like child’s play. Use the road instead for the moment. You belong there after all.